A future archery legend? Kaufhold rode visualisation to #1 ranking
ATHLETE SPOTLIGHT is presented by WIAWIS.
It is easy to forget Casey Kaufhold is just 19 years old.
Since making her international debut at age 15, Kaufhold has become a staple on the circuit, winning silver at the World Archery Championships in 2021 before rising to world number one at the end of the 2023 season.
It is the culmination of a whirlwind four years that also saw her win her first stage of the Hyundai Archery World Cup in Paris in August, just weeks after agonisingly missing out on a second world medal in Berlin.
“I remember saying to my coach I wasn’t leaving Europe without a medal,” reflected Kaufhold. “I don’t care if it’s team, mixed team, individual, I am not going home without a bit of hardware in my carry-on. Having that happen in Berlin was motivation that helped me do well in Paris.”
Kaufhold is the first recurve woman from the USA to top the Sanlida World Archery Rankings – but that is not enough to satiate the unashamedly ambitious appetite of the Pennsylvania teen, who has her eyes fixed on success at next year’s Olympics and much more beyond.
“I don’t know if it has really set in yet,” said Kaufhold. “Being world number one is a goal I have been working towards for a long time so to accomplish that at 19, it is a lot sooner than I expected.”
“I am looking at this list of archers that I have watched shoot since I was little and to be at the top is just insane to me.”
The US archer doesn’t see the world number one spot as pressure but rather as an accomplishment, and she doesn't mince words when talking about what she wants to achieve.
“When you think of gymnastics, you think of Simone Biles, you think of basketball, you think of Michael Jordan, you think of swimming, you think of Michael Phelps,” she said.
“I want it to be that when you think of archery, you think of Casey Kaufhold.”
“What I really want is to be an archery legend.”
Such a lofty goal may seem daunting, but not for Kaufhold, who now feels at home at the top of the sport.
“It doesn’t scare me at all, it makes me excited,” she added. “It is what I have dreamed of since I was a little kid. I never wanted to just be ordinary, I wanted to be extraordinary.”
Kaufhold has already accrued quite some international experience, making 13 appearances on the Hyundai Archery World Cup circuit in less than five years.
“In 2021, I still felt pretty rookie but now I am starting to be one of those names that people see quite often, and it feels good to be that,” she said.
That Kaufhold is comfortable with being one of the more well-known names in the archery world is something that can only serve her well as she trains her focus on what is a key part of any legendary status: Olympic glory.
A medal at Paris 2024 would make Kaufhold the first individual female US medallist since Seoul 1988, but after clinching her first major win in the Olympic venue – this year’s World Cup leg also acted as the test event for the Games – the 19-year-old is confident of snapping her nation’s streak.
“Having shot on that stage and won… it gives me confidence – what is one year? There is only time to get better,” she said. “I have learned a lot in the past year about how I perform best on stage, and everything is falling into place.
“I still have a lot of international tournaments left to get more experience on stage, but I am feeling pretty confident about Paris.”
Kaufhold already has one Olympic Games under her belt but is under no illusions that her time in Tokyo will pale in comparison to the large crowds that will surround the finals stage in Paris.
(Events in Japan, of course, were closed to the public in the fallout from the pandemic.)
But, as ever, that is something that is being relished rather than feared, with Kaufhold hoping to bottle up her time in the City of Lights in preparation for the Games next summer.
“The biggest goal is to keep that experience at the forefront of my mind,” she explained. “If it’s something you see happening often, even if it’s just in your head, it is going to feel so much more familiar.”
And the 19-year-old has been working on a lot of imagery to keep that experience there for next year.
The biggest part of her mental training is visualisation. She takes an internal image of how the field looks and feels, the emotions and sensations of competing in the arena, and then repeatedly imagines herself winning the gold medal at the 2024 Olympics.
“I want to remember it; what does the target look like, what colour is the stage, what does everything in my surroundings look like,” she explained.
And the focus on visualisation techniques is what Kaufhold believes has been key to her success in 2023.
A difficult start to the season in Antalya and Medellin, as well as adjusting to full-time archery after leaving Texas A&M University, led to Kaufhold seeing a sports psychologist, with the uptick in performances following swiftly after.
“Those first few tournaments didn’t go well and then, in my mind, I was like maybe 2021 was just luck – I was convinced for some reason that was just my one lucky day,” admitted Kaufhold.
“I had never had thoughts like that before, I have always thought it’s my skill and my talent.”
Working with the sport psychologist marked the turning point in her season.
“I think it’s very important to have life figured out, it makes archery a lot easier,” she said. “I did my first year of college last year and decided it wasn’t for me, so that was a big decision and there was a weird adjusting period heading into the 2023 season which I think threw me off a little bit.”
“I had a big realisation that college will be there forever but, in archery, there are certain years in an athlete’s life that are so crucial that you can’t waste if you want to be successful.”
Casey, the daughter of Lancaster Archery Supply founder Rob Kaufhold, has been in and around the sport for her entire life. She recognises the opportunity Paris, and the upcoming period of her sporting career, offers.
“I just wanted to spend these crucial years focusing on archery. Having a clearer mind and having life together a bit more definitely makes things a bit easier,” she said.
“School was fun but I took time to think back about what I really want…
“…and what I really want is to be an archery legend.”